On the shelf in Dr. Betsy Grunch’s office sits a football with a University of Georgia logo emblazoned on the front. It’s in a clear case, protected to ensure the signature of Todd Gurley, former Georgia Bulldogs and now Los Angeles Rams star running back, doesn’t fade away.
Grunch, a neurosurgeon with Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville and a Georgia graduate, said she’s always loved sports, though she didn’t grow up with a favorite team. Once she decided to attend Georgia, though, she became a fan and has been ever since.
Now, the university seems to be a fan of hers as she was recently named to Georgia’s “40 under 40” list.
“I’m very honored to be selected for this,” said Grunch, 38, a Gainesville native and West Hall High graduate. “It’s kind of neat to be in such a select group of graduates that represent UGA.”
The “40 under 40” list honors Georgia alumni under the age of 40 for their personal, professional and philanthropic achievements. Each person on the list was nominated by someone in the community.
Grunch’s original plan was to attend Emory University, where she earned a scholarship to play softball, but chose not to accept “only a drop in the bucket” of her overall tuition costs. Georgia offered a few academic scholarships, so she decided to go with the option that wouldn’t leave her in debt.
“Obviously, in retrospect, that was the best decision I ever made because I was able to focus fully on academics and come through undergraduate with no debt,” Grunch said.
When she was younger, Grunch wanted to be like her mother Betty Uriegas, a deputy with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. But in 1994, when Grunch was 13, someone opened fire toward her mother’s vehicle while she was on duty, causing her to swerve and hit a tree. She broke her neck and was paralyzed from the neck down.
From that moment on, Grunch took care of her mother. She became a certified nursing assistant at age 15, and continued to learn more about the medical field at age 16 while doing data-entry work over the summer with Dr. Nabil Muhanna, the physician who treated her mother and now a partner at Longstreet Clinic.
Her mother’s injury changed her life — Grunch knew she wanted to spend her professional life helping other people.
“Neuroscience to me, in general, is very fascinating,” Grunch said. “If they can’t move one part of their body and you can match that to a particular part in the brain or spinal cord, you can fix that and make it better, which is to me, very rewarding.”
Grunch moved on from Georgia to earn her medical degree at the Medical College of Georgia and completed her residency at Duke University Medical Center. She said she loved all of those places and couldn’t find anything wrong with them, but she always wanted to come back to Georgia. And she couldn’t think of a better place to work than Gainesville, where she grew up and where her family still lived.
“I just really felt like this was home,” Grunch said. “The hospital and medical community here is awesome and I just wanted to be a part of it. And now, I don’t think I’ll ever leave unless something drastic happens.”
She said he mother’s injury not only inspired her to go down this career path, but it actually makes her better at her job.
“I can sympathize with (patients) not only on a physician level, but going through that with my mom, understanding what it’s like on a personal level,” Grunch said. “I feel like I can sympathize and empathize with them a lot better since I’ve been through that.”
Grunch said she wanted to “emulate” her mother and serve the public in the same way she did as a sheriff’s deputy. After taking care of her and choosing to become a neurosurgeon, Grunch realized she’s able to do just that.
“Being a physician is kind of the same,” Grunch said. “You’re helping the public, but you’re helping in a different way and improving their quality of life. I think everything happens for a reason, and for whatever reason, this happened to us and it drove me to do what I do.